Salah Mesbah Khalaf (Arabic صلاح خلف), also known as Abu Iyad (Arabic أبو إياد) (born 1933 – January 14, 1991) was deputy chief and head of intelligence for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the second most senior official of Fatah after Yasser Arafat.

Khalaf has been described as "of medium height and sturdy build, undistinguished in a crowd." When Christopher Dobson, hoping for an interview, was introduced to him in Cairo in the early 1970s, Khalaf made "so little an impression" during the brief encounter that Dobson did not realize until later that he had already met Israel's most-wanted terrorist.[1]

Khalaf and his family fled Jaffa after Israel took the city in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, becoming refugees. He moved to Cairo in the early 1950s. There he became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1951, he met Yasser Arafat at the al-Azhar University—where he studied literature—during a meeting of the General Union of Palestinian Students. In 1958, he founded the organization of Fatah with Arafat and other Palestinians in Kuwait.[2]

As an alleged member of Black September, Khalaf was arrested by the Jordanians and then released after he appealed to his comrades to stop fighting and to lay down their arms. Dobson reports that, according to the Jordanians, Khalaf "was subjected to such ridicule by the guerrillas who had fought on that he reacted by turning from moderation to the utmost violence."[1] According to Said Abu Rish's biography of Yasser Arafat, Arafat had used the fact Abu Iyad negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan to deflect criticism from himself over the conduct of the fighting between Palestinian guerrillas and the Jordanian army in 1970-71, portraying Khalaf as weak. Khalaf then felt the need to restore his reputation within the Palestinian community, and became one of the foremost advocates for the terror campaigns conducted by PLO fighters and others during the early 1970s.

He met with U.S. officials as part of the U.S.-PLO dialogue. He was a man "who had been instrumental in bringing about the shift of PLO policy toward greater pragmatism."[3]

Khalaf opposed Arafat's alliance with Saddam Hussein, actually going as far as to express disagreement with the Iraqi leader in face to face meetings, and vouched to stay neutral during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He was assassinated in Tunis in the same year by an Abu Nidal operative.[2] He was accused by Israel and the United States of having founded the Black September organization.

Further reading

My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle, Abu Iyad with Eric Rouleau, New York 1981, ISBN 0812909364

Salah Khalaf, "Lowering the Sword," Foreign Affairs, Spring 1990, pp. 91-112.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Library of Congress – Federal Research Division The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aburish, Said K. (1998). From Defender to Dictator. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 1-58234-049-8. 
  3. William B. Quandt, Peace Process (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2001), page 297.
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